Green Masala Chicken Biryani


I will be making this again this weekend…can almost taste it!

Eid is almost here, and I asked my mother-in-law what I should make. She had two words: chicken biryani.

Of course. I don’t even know why I asked.

Quick biryani lesson: the dish came by way of Persia (thanks Wikipedia) and is basically a rice dish where the rice is partially cooked, then layered with the other ingredients to steam the rest of the way (as opposed to cooking everything together as in a pulao). There are countless variations, which on one hand means there is room for innovation and creativity but on the other hand means everyone says everyone else is doing it wrong.

Pukka Paki’s My Tamarind Kitchen’s Green Masala Chicken Biryani is my favorite recipe that I’ve tried, because it is fresh and bright thanks to the handfuls of fresh herbs, and the whole garam masalas lightly spice the dish without weighing it down.

I’ve made it several times and have made just a few small adjustments – first, the masala is awesome as is, but it doesn’t hurt to throw in a couple extra Thai chilies. Second, this makes a LOT of curry – which is normally a good thing because you don’t want to be stingy on the curry, but where she lists 2.5 cups of rice I have gradually upped this to 3.5, and 4 would probably be ok. Last, before baking she says to stick lemon wedges here and there, but I forgo this because the first time I made it, it was overpoweringly lemony. I guess I could just stick less/thinner wedges, but I err on the side of caution and just serve with lemon wedges for a fresh spritz before eating.

A few helpful tips and musings:

  • The list of ingredients and steps is dauntingly long, but if you break it down into components its seems more manageable (Onions + yogurt, chicken + spices, tomatoes + green masala, mix mix finish and layer with rice).
  • I don’t have a good heavy-bottomed pot, but have found a nonstick wok is fantastic – you can crank up the heat and not worry too much about it sticking, so it works well for the onion and curry components.
  • Once you get your onions started, you will have plenty of time to prep your other ingredients (I’m usually a  “furiously multitask” type, not a “serenely mise” type, but I can be the latter in this situation because I am doing something productive on the side).
  • You may be scandalized by the amount of oil/ghee used. Just breathe into a bag for a minute or perhaps take a long walk or soothing bubble bath and then get on with it.
  • Lots of Pakistani recipes give you the instruction to “cook until the oil rises to the top” – including this recipe, several times. What does that even mean? I used to stare wistfully into my pot, wondering if I’d know the moment it happened. Now I realize that this is not that ambiguous. If you don’t see it, keep cooking. You’ll know.
  • I rarely have saffron on hand but I always have safflowers (from the Arabic market. Just as yellow, way less expensive), so I use these instead. You are going for several colors running through the rice, and this will achieve the pretty yellow part of that. The flavor is different, but as this is not a delicately-spiced bouillabaisse I don’t think it matters much. Some people actually use food coloring (bleh no thanks).
  • Lots of recipes have you finish the dish on the stove, but I like the oven versions such as this because you don’t have to worry about stuff burning to the bottom – plus although she has you put it in a serving dish, I think that’s unnecessary because the baking dish presentation is lovely.

Green Masala Chicken Biryani

Recipe from My Tamarind Kitchen

For the onion yogurt mixture

  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup ghee
  • 4-6 medium red onions, finely sliced
  • 2 cups yogurt

Heat oil and ghee in a wok or heavy-bottomed pot and deep-fry onions until very brown (this will take awhile so in the meantime you can prep the rest of the ingredients). Stir occasionally and be careful not to burn. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Whip yogurt, then add onions and mix.

For the half done rice

  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 4 green cardamom pods (bruised)
  • salt
  • 3 1/2 cups basmati rice

Rinse rice thoroughly and soak for 30 minutes before cooking. Boil a large pot of lightly salted water with the cinnamon and green cardamom pods. Add rice, rapidly boil until al dente (approximately 4 minutes). Drain and set aside.

For the green masala

  • 2 inch piece of ginger
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 cup mint, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups cilantro, chopped
  • 3-4 Thai chilies (a couple extra if you like more spice)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder

Grind all to a paste.

For the biryani

  • 1/2 cup oil (divided)
  • 5 tbsp ghee (divided)
  • 1 medium whole skinless chicken cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces by butcher
  • Whole garam masala: 10 cloves, 1 stick cinnamon, 6 green cardamom pods (bruised), 15 peppercorns, 2 star anise
  • 3-4 medium chopped tomatoes
  • salt
  • green masala (above)
  • yogurt mixture (above)
  • half done rice (above)
  • 2 pinches of safflower or saffron (crumbled and soaked in hot milk for 15 minutes minimum to release color/fragrance)
  • 1 tbsp rosewater
  • lemon wedges, coriander leaves, yogurt or cucumber raita for serving

For the curry, heat 1/2 cup oil and 2 tbsp ghee in a large saucepan or wok. Brown chicken and remove. Add another 1/2 cup oil and 2 tbsp ghee, along with the whole garam masala, and heat until fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes and a good sprinkle of salt, and cook, stirring, until the oil rises to the top. Add the green masala, cook until the oil rises to the top, then add the browned chicken and the onion-yogurt mix, cook until the oil rises to the top.

Heat the oven to 320° F. In a large baking dish, spread the curry on the bottom and layer the half cooked rice on the top. Sprinkle the safflower milk, a tbsp of ghee, and the rosewater over the top. Tightly cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes to an hour (this has always taken me an hour) until the rice is perfectly cooked through.

To serve, stir the rice and curry gently to mix, being careful not to break the rice. Serve with lemon wedges, chopped cilantro, and yogurt or cucumber raita.

It was a full month after my mother-in-law came before I made it for her because I was so nervous, but when I finally made this for her she ate plateful after plateful, and all but licked plate.


Flour and Spice and Chocolate and Chilis, two gorgeous cooking blogs I’ve been perusing lately for more recipes to try, are hosting a virtual Eid party, so of course I want to play :) Here’s my contribution to the potluck, looking forward to seeing what the other participates are cooking up!

Blueberry Coffee Cake


Blueberry Coffee Cake

For this month’s Secret Recipe Club, I was paired with Julie from Julie’s Eats & Treats. She has plenty of recipes for a sweet tooth, and since I don’t bake as much as I’d like I thought this would be a good opportunity to try one of them out. But more about that in a minute.

Julie comes from Minnesota (wonder if she has the accent), and started her blog as a way to share recipes with family and friends. However, it looks like the best thing she’s been cooking lately is her cute new baby! Her name is Kinzee Marie and she’s just adorable, so if you love not only drooling over recipes but also over cute babies, I suggest you go see some sweet baby pics.

So back to sweet tooth – specifically this Blueberry Coffee Cake. I am enthusiastic about cake meant to be eaten both a) with coffee and b) for breakfast. I did change up a few things, mostly because I don’t have a bundt pan (although it does look very pretty in bundt form as she made hers). I just made mine in a sheet pan, and since it was in a sheet pan I decided to make a streusel topping instead of the glaze. Unfortunately, it just melted, making a cinnamony brown sugar crust (which is very yummy, though not as pretty).

The other thing I did slightly different was adding a few cardamom pods to the blueberry mixture. Because cardamom is my favorite.

Blueberry Coffee Cake

For the blueberry mixture
1 1/2 c blueberries
1/3 c sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
3 cardamom pods, cracked

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, over medium head for 3-4 minutes until thick. Remove from heat and set aside. When it has cooled a bit pick out the cardamom pods.

For the cake
1/2 c butter, softened
2 eggs
1 c sour cream
1 tsp almond extract
2 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, combine, add sour cream and almond extract, combine. Sift flour, salt and baking powder, and stir into wet ingredients until just combined.

For streusel, in theory (like I said, mine melted)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, room temperature

Combine all with a fork until crumbly.

To assemble
Heat over to 350° Prepare a sheet pan. Spread half of cake mixture, then all of blueberry mixture, then the other half of the cake mixture. (Real talk: I spread the top half the cake mixture with wet hands, so it didn’t mix too much with the blueberries). Sprinkle with streusel, then bake for 25-30 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. Cool and serve.

Thank you Julie, this is delicious! The leftovers are destined for my office, my coworkers thank you as well.

Prelude to Valentine’s Day with Red Food: Harissa; and Quinoa Salad with Fennel and Pomegranate


This Saturday, the weekend before the much loved/dreaded Valentine’s Day, my sister had a potluck with her work friends. As she is aware of my enthusiasm for potlucks, she invited Zoeya and me. The theme was Red Food. (Sidenote: this was not my first Red Food potluck). She made a delicious baked spaghetti and one of her friends brought an amazing red velvet, white chocolate and raspberry trifle – no beef, we asked. My contribution was a harissa-esque dip served over hummus, and a quinoa salad.

I tried to shape the harissa into a heart!

Here’s something spicy you can make for your lovah: harissa. I use the term “harissa” loosely – this was more of a dip than a sauce or paste, and I made it not-too-spicy lest there be wimpy tongues at the party, but honestly the heat could have been to be turned up a notch (next time!). The other silly thing I did was that after I blitzed it the first time I decided that in color it wasn’t red enough for a red food party so I added some tandoori masala thinking that spices were spices. Mistake! Although it still tasted good, it starting smelling distinctly Indian instead of a North African…so next time, paprika.

This is very versatile! Use as a dip, condiment on salads or sandwiches, or as a wet rub or part of a marinade. I served it over hummus.

Red Pepper and Sun-dried Tomato Harissa

3 red peppers
heaping tsp each cumin and coriander seeds
seeds from 2 cardamom pods
5 cloves
1 jar sun-dried tomatoes (minus the several I ate)
heaping tsp paprika
salt & pepper
1/2 – 2 tbsp red pepper flakes, depending on how hot you want it (maybe a little less for a dip and more for a condiment or wet rub)
1 tbsp olive oil

Heat oven to 450° Roast the red peppers by placing them directly on the oven rack and roast until blacked, turning once. Remove to a glass bowl and cover to sweat them (so it will be easier to take the skins off). Once cool, remove stems, seeds, and skins.

In the meantime, in a dry skillet toast cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom seeds and cloves. Grind to a powder with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process to a thick paste. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

I also made:

I had my Persephone Salad in mind, but was in the mood to make something with quinoa. I found this recipe for Quinoa, Fennel, and Pomegranate Salad online, which looked delicious, but I still wanted to make pomegranate vinaigrette so I combined the two!

Quinoa Salad with Fennel and Pomegranate

For the quinoa
1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed (red if possible! I couldn’t find it so used tricolored)
olive oil
2 bulbs fennel, sliced (reserve fronds)
4 cloves garlic
tsp cumin seeds
tsp chili powder
handful fennel fronds (removed from stalk), chopped
handful cilantro, chopped
handful mint, chopped
1 head red leaf lettuce, chopped

Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add quinoa, reduce to a simmer, and cook covered until quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Drain.

In the meantime, heat olive oil to medium high and saute fennel and garlic with salt & pepper until fennel is very tender. Add cumin seeds and chili powder and saute for another minute.

Toss warm quinoa with fennel, herbs, and lettuce (I just love tossing warm things with lettuce because it makes it super green and wilts it just slightly).

For the vinaigrette
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
3 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp honey
salt & pepper
6 tbsp olive oil

Whisk all together.

Toss quinoa and vinaigrette together, and top the whole thing with 1/4 cup or so pomegranate seeds

Someone enjoyed dinner (although she was more a fan of the spaghetti than the salad).

Zoeya’s favorite thing to say to me nowadays is “I am waiting patiently, but you are taking TOO LONG!”

Mulled Wine


Mulled wine is lovely, warming, and festive. I first made it for a Christmas party my husband and I were having the year we moved in together. None of our friends were familiar so I described it as warm sangria. Feel free to spike it with rum or brandy, and if it’s for a party, I recommend doubling the recipe and floating a clove-studded orange for effect. I didn’t do either this time; I didn’t have any rum, and I made this for a regular old Friday night in December.

Mulled Wine

1 bottle cheap red wine
generous splash of juice (such as apple, apple cider, or orange. I used apricot nectar since I still had some in the fridge)
1 cinnamon stick
1 black cardamom
1 star anise pod
several each of: cardamom pods, allspice berries, cloves, black peppercorns
honey to taste
peel of one orange, tangerine, or clementine

Combine everything in a sauce pan, stirring to dissolve honey, and heat on low (don’t allow to boil!) for an hour and a half to two hours.

Note: if you don’t have all these spices, don’t despair! Use what you have, even a pinch of powdered spices.

Cardamom Coffee


Cardamom – the Queen of Spices – is my most favorite spice. It is warm, delicate, and in about 10 seconds can take your average cup of coffee into something lovely and romantic, straight out of Arabian Nights. Cardamom coffee appears in Arabian Nights…as an aphrodisiac.

You could just crack a few pods and put them on top of your coffee in the coffee maker. I love to use a French press, with espresso, and I love to drink it from a tea cup.

Cardamom Coffee

1 1/2 tbsp espresso (I like Bustelo)
2 cardamom pods, cracked
1 teacup water
milk or cream, optional (I take it)
sugar optional (I don’t)

Put espresso and cardamom pods in a French press. Heat water to a boil and pour over espresso. Let steep for a minute or two, press, pour, and fix as you like.

Rosewater and Cardamom Burfi


Not to start out with a hate, but to be perfectly honest, I am not a huge fan of Indian and Pakistani sweets. They are sickly sweet – although that can be cut since they are meant to be enjoyed with a nice cup of tea – and while Indian and Pakistani food is complex with spices, the flavor profiles of sweets are comparatively flat.

For some reason though, I have a soft spot for burfi. I’m not sure why, it may be the milkiness. This was my first attempt. I always have fun experimenting with an ingredient I’ve never used before and this time it was khoya, which is basically milk that has been cooked down until it’s solid, and you can grate it like a block of cheese. It can be found in the refrigerated section of Indian markets. Rosewater and cardamom I use a lot, like in my Rosewater and Cardamom Lassi…I can’t help it, I just love them.

Rosewater and Cardamom Burfi

a little ghee or butter
12 oz khoya, grated
1 cup honey
scant 1/2 cup water (maybe a little less)
1 tbsp rosewater
seeds from 8 cardamom pods
small handful almonds, chopped

Grease a glass dish with ghee or butter. Heat the khoya on low until it melts. Separately, heat honey, water, rosewater, and cardamom seeds. When it is hot, add to the khoya, and whisk until thoroughly combined. Spread in the dish, and sprinkle with almonds. Cover and refrigerate a few hours until solid, then cut into squares or diamonds.

Note: I cut the sweetener to less than half what I saw in most recipes (although I did use honey which is sweeter than sugar) and it’s still super sweet. Which actually means the taste is pretty authentic, but next time I plan on cutting it even more for my unauthentic taste.

Pumpkin Pancakes with Cardamom Apple Compote


What is essentially Pumpkinfest 2011 continues with a Sunday morning brunch treat I whipped up for my daughter, mom and sisters. I wanted pumpkin pancakes and wasn’t feeling brave enough to tweak my regular pancake recipe, so I Googled one.

The first recipe that popped up was Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes from Pinch My Salt . They were delightful, lightly sweet and warmly spiced. The only changes I made were using demerara sugar mixed with a little molasses for the brown sugar, and I used coconut oil instead of the “oil” which I think meant vegetable oil.

Perfect with a simple creamy cardamom apple compote to go on top, very autumny.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes with
Cardamom Apple Compote

For the pancakes
Yummy recipe on Pinch My Salt.

For the apples
3 apples (I used gala)
3 cardamom pods, cracked
pinch of salt
1 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp sour cream
1 1/2 tsp honey

Peel and chop apples into 1/2 inch cubes. Heat butter on medium high, adding cardamom. Add apples and just a pinch of salt and saute for a couple of minutes, then add a cup of water. Bring to a simmer and cook apples until water evaporates. Repeat until apples are soft but still retain their shape. Remove from heat.

Mix sour cream and honey and stir into warm apples.

Drizzle pancakes with a little maple syrup, spoon apples on top and serve.

Rosewater and Cardamom Lassi


On the way to work a couple weeks ago I was listening to NPR coverage of the Syrian revolution. Although the regime has been quick to strike down resistance, I was touched by the creative and peaceful ways people are protesting, particularly those protesting by throwing roses in a fountain.

I guess I still had roses on the brain later when making lassis with Zoeya. We dressed this one up a bit with rosewater and cardamom for a pretty and delicate drink.

Rosewater and Cardamom Lassi

4 cardamom pods
1 1/2 c yogurt
1/2 c cold water
4 tbsp sugar (I used demerara, but plain would be fine)
1 tbsp rose water
1 c ice cubes

Crack cardamom pods, keeping seeds and discarding the outer shell. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend. Pour into glasses and enjoy.

To the revolution!

Coconutty Chana Dal


I’ve always made lentils fairly frequently, but lately it seems we are never without a pot in the fridge. This is partly out of laziness, because I can make them with my eyes closed with pantry ingredients that don’t require the foresight of a trip to the store, and they make for days of lunches and side dishes. Usually I whip up the split red lentils that cook in a snap – as in my Weeknight Lentils – but since it was the weekend I decided to get a little crazy and make chana dal.

A weekend warning, apart from the longer cooking time: “lentils” may sound like rabbit food, but with creamy coconut milk and a pat of butter, these are pretty decadent.

Chana dal take longer to cook and than red lentils and they hold their shape instead of dissolving into a starchy mush. They have a very nice nutty flavor. I like just a little sweetness in my lentils (I usually put a drop of honey in my French black lentils) which I got here from carrots. It’s just enough sweetness for me without Shan accusing me of adding sugar. Also, I’ve been getting into cooking with coconut oil lately. I already love the nutty note it gives a dish, and though it’s a saturated fat, I’ve been reading more about its health benefits. So multipurpose, I like to oil my hair with it too.

Dinner was a collaborative effort; we had friends over and enjoyed this with basmati rice, a lovely cucumber raita made by our friend, and my husband’s famous Lahori tilapia.

Coconutty Chana Dal

2 tbsp coconut oil

whole spices:
2 cloves
2 cardamom pods (cracked)
1 cinnamon stick

1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 inch ginger, grated

ground spices:
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cayenne
black pepper

2 tbsp tomato paste
zest of 1 lemon
2 carrots, finely chopped in food processor
1 1/2 c chana dal
several cups water
1/2 c coconut milk
1 tbsp butter

Heat oil in a good-sized, heavy-bottomed pot, and add whole spices. When they smell fragrant, add the onion, stirring until it begins to turn translucent, then add garlic, ginger, and whole spices. Cook, stirring, a few minutes, then add tomato paste, lemon, carrots, dal, and water to cover by an inch or so. Reduce heat to a high simmer, and cover. Cook, stirring fairly frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. The dal will begin to absorb the water so add more as necessary. The final consistency should be wet but not watery.

I’m not in the habit of timing things, I just cook them until they’re done. I will say the cooking time is a little lengthy, enough to do the dishes, make the rice, give Zoeya a bath and put her to bed (Shan babysat the pot while I was upstairs so it didn’t burn). Cook until the dal is soft. Stir in coconut milk, butter, and salt to taste.

Pretty when garnished with cilantro, but mine wilted in the thousand degree heat.

Cherry Tres Leches Cake


A little about my friend Gloria. We met long, long ago (I’m getting old) when I moved back to Charlotte after school. She was the friend who inspired me to cook. Back then I barely knew my way around the kitchen, whereas she was a kitchen genius and everything she made was mouthwateringly delicious.

We have been though a lot since then. Boyfriends and breakups and babies and relocation, crazy nights out and cozy days in. She is always so sweet and thoughtful, and is a wonderful friend. Just recently after my heartbreak, Gloria flew into town and swept me away for a girls day at the vineyard. I am truly blessed to have someone like her in my life.

She also had a foodie goodie basket for me with all kinds of fancy salts, vanilla beans, and an adorable little recipe book she made herself. This past weekend when she was in town she hosted a barbecue at her boyfriend’s house. The theme was latin, the food was delicioso, and I used the vanilla bean she gave me to make this cake.

Cherry Tres Leches Cake

Adapted from Alton Brown’s Tres Leches Recipe, to include lovely vanilla bean and the mound of cherries I had in the fridge.

I pretty much made the cake exactly as is, so I won’t repeat that part of the recipe here. The only thing I did differently was to omit the vanilla from the cake batter and instead to gently heat the glaze with the split and scraped vanilla bean (remove the pod before glazing). I also added the cherry filling below, so follow the cake directions up until it is baked and cooled but not yet glazed.

Spiced Cherry Filling

One pound cherries, pitted and roughly chopped, plus more for garnish
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick, broken in two
4 cardamom pods – crack and use the seeds, discard casings
1/3 c sugar

Combine everything in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Cook, stirring constantly, until cherries are broken down some but still have texture, and the mixture is thick and reaches the gel point. (Good job. At this point you’ve basically made cherry preserves).

Remove cooled cake from pan. Slice in two lengthwise. Poke holes in the bottom half and slowly pour the tres leches over it, poking it to make sure it absorbs as much as possible. I had milk leftover so don’t stress out if it doesn’t take it all. Spread cherry mixture evenly over the bottom half, then place top half on top. Poke holes in top half and glaze top half.

At this point you can follow the rest of the recipe (refrigerate overnight, then top with whipped cream the next day).

Garnish with cherries.

And…here’s us stuck in the rain at the vineyard.